LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Art Crosses The Fashion Frontier


From museums and foundations to catwalk connections, the worlds of fashion and art are continually merging, creating exciting hybrid innovations.

The gap between fine art and fashion grows ever finer as both disciplines profit from creative exchanges and injections of inspiration.

Creativity is the backbone of fashion, and right now, nothing is more in fashion than art and architecture. This is a twofold phenomenon: art and architecture have infiltrated the social consciousness at large, but they've also infiltrated the world of fashion, launching a rapid series of associations and collaborations.

The late Coco Chanel was fond of saying that fashion is not an art, it's a craft. But while Chanel's legacy has continued and blossomed as the years have passed, her definitive utterance has undergone its own impressive evolution.

One of the primary - and most obvious - ways that fashion and art, and primarily architecture, have united is in store design. As luxury labels have transcended basic supply and demand economics to become powerhouse brand names, they've elevated the status of the creative designer, and in the process they've elevated the status of the architect as brands have communicated their values and importance by hiring big-name architects to make a splash on a city's retail and architectural scene.
This cross-fertilization means that when Hermès hired Renzo Piano to design its Maison Hermès in Tokyo, the result became an architectural landmark. Ditto Jun Aoki for Louis Vuitton and Herzog & de Meuron for Prada, all giving credence to the fact that the reach of fashion and luxury goes beyond simply selling scarves and handbags.

Design has merged with the fashion milieu, too, in Thomas Heatherwick's interior for the new Longchamp store in New York; in Piero Lissoni's outfitting of Elie Tahari's stores across the US; and in the Marc Newson-designed shoe boutique of Azzedine
Alaïa's Paris store. Alaïa, long an art collector, has outfitted his adjoining hostelry, 3 Rooms, with works by Julian Schnabel, Pierre Paulin and Jean Nouvel in deference to the fact that those who appreciate good fashion usually appreciate good design and good art, too.

In reality, the worlds of fashion and art have never been strangers. Chanel herself was a close collaborator of Picasso and Cocteau on various projects, and her rival Elsa Schiaparelli incorporated Christian Bérard and Cocteau's artwork into her own clothing. Some of Yves Saint Laurent's most famous creations were interpretations of works by Mondrian, Braque and Van Gogh. Ralph Rucci isn't averse to covering his dresses with embroidered renditions of the scrawled artwork of Cy Twombly. In fact, rarely does a season go by when a handful of influential designers isn't putting forth the name of one artist or another as the inspiration behind its collection.

If the general public is unaware of the historical relationship between fashion and fine art, it's also frequently unaware of the inspiration that went into the clothes it goes parading around. While few could remain unaware if they found their jacket covered with Bridget Riley's vertigo-inducing Op-Art, others might be less aware that the blue they're starting to see was inspired by the recent Yves Klein exhibit at Paris's Pompidou Center, or that the cute dress they snapped up from Proenza Schouler and their shiny summer Miu Miu clutch are strongly inspired by the work of Ellsworth Kelly and Sol LeWitt, respectively, much in the way the Stella McCartney dress for last summer had a specially created Jeff Koons print or the Akris dress they pre-ordered for this coming fall took its curvilinear inspiration from the structural output of Herzog de Meuron – not exactly art, but fashion is fond of dipping a toe in the architecture pond, too.

Lately, as the fashion – or more specifically, luxury fashion – industry has undergone a rapid growth spurt that necessitated equally rapid evolution, it's found itself inching ever nearer to its artful bedmate.

Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas headed an exhibition called Mutations at the Arc en Rêve in Bordeaux, France, in 2000. The exhibition was devoted to contemporary urbanism and the way cities and their uses are evolving. One of Koolhaas's surprising findings was that from 1992 to 2000, American museums increased the surface area of their exhibition space by 3% and their museum boutiques by 29%. That gap can only have increased exponentially since seven years ago. This incredibly disproportionate growth reflects the increasing importance of art as a commodity and of museums as a place of commerce, not just culture. And if there's one thing people love to shop for, it's fashion.

So it makes sense that if people like to shop at museums, they'll probably also be open to looking at art in a shop. Thus goes the thinking of the numerous luxury (and not-so-luxury) brands whose stores have increasingly shifted their focus from wowing customers with walls of shiny new products to leaving them dumbfounded (frequently in a couple of senses of the word) with an all-out assault of high-level contemporary art and architecture.

One of the biggest luxury brands of them all, Louis Vuitton, has not only earned revenue in the hundreds of millions from allying itself with artists and creators such as Takashi Murakami, Julie Verhoeven and Stephen Sprouse to produce accessories that led to buying frenzies, it's gone one step further, creating the Espace Louis Vuitton, a 4,300 square-foot exhibition space with panoramic views on the top of its flagship store on Paris's Champs-Elysées. Its current show "Winds & Sails" closes on April 16 – coincidentally the day the Louis Vuitton Cup sailing race kicks off in Valencia, Spain. The store itself is already an homage to art and architecture, as much of a visual draw for curious visitors as an enticement for the products it's packed with. It, like all Vuitton stores around the globe, also gave over its windows during the 2006 Christmas season to "Eye See You," a large mechanical artwork similar to a glowing bronze eye produced by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, which was replicated in every single window – an attention-getting, and oddly purifying, concept at a time of year when shop windows are overflowing with the choicest merchandise.

In the summer of 2004, Bernard Arnault, the president of LVMH, the luxury group of which Vuitton is the cash cow, transformed the LVMH headquarters on the tony Avenue Montaigne into a permanent exhibition space for contemporary art, not least of all via a 40-ton steel sculpture by Richard Serra that had to be lifted over the building and into an inner courtyard by Europe's largest crane.

"The group lives on creativity, but not just that of fashion designers," Arnault said at the time. He's since backed up that statement even further as the LVMH brand Dior Homme (as an initiative under the direction of the now-defected designer Hedi Slimane) opened a series of stores that each displayed the artistic input of a different artist in the fitting room area. Daniel Arsham, Pierre Huyghe and Carsten Höller are just three of the artists who brought their unique points of view to the part of the stores where people really have the time to pay attention.

Art has been working its way into the retail environment for a while now. Prada, which created the Fondazione Prada in 1993, has used its epicenters (i.e. primary architectural showpiece stores in major markets) as a space where art and cultural events find their place alongside the brand's bread-and-butter accessories and fashion offerings. The next exhibition, in Milan, is "On Otto," a project by Tobias Rehberger consisting of the production of a film and an architectural installation. "Waist Down," an interactive anthology of skirts spanning from the first women's collection in 1988 to last year, made its way through epicenters from Shanghai to Los Angeles in 2006, but the most dramatic stop was at the Rem Koolhaas-designed SoHo epicenter in New York, a space whose staircase doubles as seating, and which boasts a display area, replete with a large wooden wave, that was specially created with the goal of artistic adaptability in mind.

Elsewhere in New York, the connection between fashion and art has cemented itself in a different way. The most important and stylish night of the year, society-wise, has become the Costume Institute Gala, when Vogue teams up with the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to launch the year's big show. Almost like a Big Apple version of the Oscars, the evening draws the great, the good and the generous of pocket (tables for the night go for many thousands), simultaneously generating a large cash injection for the museum and plenty of coverage for attendees and the designers who dress them, along with giving the museum contemporary (albeit feverish) relevance and cementing Vogue's status as the primary institution of American, and especially New York, style. We'll scratch your perfectly buffed back if you'll scratch ours...

Mixing art with fashion (and other industries) has created another avenue to give people what they weren't expecting. The increasing tendency for galleries and museums to be used as reception areas for receptions, galas and parties – and in certain cases, for fashion shows – has brought a level of promotion for museums amongst a public that might not, under normal circumstances, visit such establishments. It's also helped underwrite the groaning yearly running costs of many such institutions. Some smaller French museums currently earn 30% or more of their revenue from such cultural-commercial associations, and guests frequently get the privileged opportunity to see a much-exalted exhibition in an intimate, uncrowded manner.

While the fusion of fashion and art is not a new one this symbiotic relationship between art institutions and stores – and conversely between stores and art – has given an extra dimension to luxury brands that have been accused of destroying traditional neighborhoods by snapping up prime real estate, or of taking over long-standing premises and making rents soar in the process. Creating publicly accessible art foundations, as luxury goods group LVMH is doing in Paris and PPR is doing in Venice, and sponsoring art exhibitions in the local area, give the impression not only of being a more caring, publicly transparent entity, but also of being a company that's not just got its sights on a slash-and-burn existence, but one that intends to be a long-term presence in the community, integrating into the social fabric of the area.

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